I HAD a load of mixed emotions when I was asked to chair Living in Love and Faith (LLF) Co-ordinating Group in 2017 (News, 13 November). As much as I sensed, in fear and trembling, the scale of the challenge that it would involve, there was something about it that struck chords with me and the experiences that God had led me through.
Academically, I’ve long been interested in how different people and perspectives can be held together by seeing that which is of Christ in each other, and hearing that which is of the gospel in each other’s position.
In ministry, I’ve been called to Coventry to share its remarkable story of peace, and to live out something of the prophetic words spoken by the then Provost in the BBC’s 1940 Christmas service broadcast to the nations from the ruins of the cathedral’s bombed-out remains: “What we want to tell the world is this: that with Christ born again in our hearts . . . we’re going to try to make a kinder, simpler, a more Christ-child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.”
ALTHOUGH I soon discovered that simplicity was a virtue that LLF would find difficult to embody (everything we discussed together was layered in complexity), I came to see that it was a great opportunity to build a kinder and more Christ-child-like Church for the sake of the world; and that it would need to be rooted at every moment in the simplicity of the Coventry prayer: “Father, forgive.”
About midway through the project, I encountered the work of Hartmut Rosa, a German sociologist who contends that our relationships in the modern world have become mute, and that we have become deaf to each other — indeed, to the world itself.
He describes the need to overcome the alienation that many people experience that can lead to a sense of “every day despair”, or even hostility. He proposes that we can do so by engendering resonance between people in their deep identity and dearly held views, and so be at greater peace in the world. These are the final words of Resonance, his weighty book on the subject: “A better world is possible, and it can be recognised by the central criterion, which is no longer domination and control, but listening and responding.”
That helped me to understand better what I’d seen happening as about 40 very different people, with diverse life experiences and various — and often conflicting — views and beliefs, met and worked, spoke and wrote, ate, drank, and prayed together over many demanding days.
I could see that a deep listening was taking place in each of us, and that we were responding to each other, to what we felt, thought, believed, hoped, and prayed for, listening and responding together to scripture and the theological tradition. Listening and responding to God.
And that seemed to me to be the responsibility of LLF: to allow us, difficult as it can be — and it was really difficult, most of the time — to listen to each other, to ensure that we had heard well, and that we had truly allowed each other’s voice to be heard, and to respond in love, faith, and with hope.
I’ve learnt a lot about identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage over these years, and my prayer is that the LLF resources will help those who make use of them to travel their own long and rich journey of learning through them.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself as well — about, as the Pastoral Principles put it, my ignorance, prejudices, hypocrisy, and fears, as well as my failures to give silence a voice and attend to my own use of power (Comment, 6 November).
BUT it has been the opportunity to come to know other Christians more deeply, to see into their lives, and to understand better their strongest convictions and highest hopes, that will have been the abiding gift of these past years for me.
Those colleagues are too numerous to name, but I will — if I may — mention three: Alex (a gift to LLF from the URC), who is trans; Giles (Vicar of St John’s, Waterloo), who is gay; and Jason (an adviser to the Bishop of London and former curate at Christ Church, Mayfair), who is straight.
As members of the LLF Co-ordinating Group, we’ve worked closely together. We must have spent hundreds of hours in meetings together, right up to the launch. I know that they have given many more hundreds of hours to our common task, shaping texts, framing films, creating podcasts, arguing and contending, listening and responding.
I also know something, though only the surface, of the cost that they have had to bear in our endeavours, and I worry that the price they have been asked to pay will have risen since the launch. I have seen Christ in them, and heard the gospel through them.
Yes, we have further to travel along the way of Christ’s truth. We are not done with our listening to God and discerning how we faithfully respond to God. But this I know: we belong together because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Dr Christopher Cocksworth is the Bishop of Coventry and chairman of the Living in Love and Faith Project.
This is an edited version of an article that was first published at ViaMedia.News.
Listen to an interview with Bishop Cocksworth on the Church Times Podcast.